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What I Read in 2021

Each year, I like to share what I read over the course of the days, weeks, and months that preceded. I do this for a couple reasons:

First, people that know me know that I read a fair amount and so they ask what I’ve read lately. They ask what I liked, didn’t like, and what I’ve learned. They also ask for recommendations. To the last point, I usually only give out a recommendation once we’re deep into a conversation and I have something that I think will fit the moment and circumstance with which they find themselves. I do this because I know what it’s like to get a slew of “you HAVE TO read this” suggestions. While well intentioned, the most helpful suggestions are the ones that folks take the time to personalize to me.

But I digress, onto the second reason why I do these annual recaps:

Quite simply, it’s for me. I love to learn and I also like to look back and reflect on what I learned. For instance, the lessons I remember from a book I read in January are sure to stick with me for a long time to come. It also helps me to potentially add a new title to my annual re-read list – the books that I’ve enjoyed so much that I reread them every year.

Some time around the end of 2020 or the very beginning of 2021, I made a conscious choice to read less this year than in years past. The main reason is that I wanted the outcome from most of my reading to be action-oriented. Since I read a lot of business-y type books, I didn’t find it particularly helpful to just fly through one and not take any meaningful action after reading it. This necessitated a more rigorous approach to deciding what to read. (If at this point you are thinking, “What kind of a crazy person is this? Come on man, it’s just reading!”, you are right, I am a lunatic so please pray for my lovely wife Mandy!) The biggest thing that helped me decide what to read? I took the time to define what problem I wanted solved, and then searched out what other like-minded folks read, and tried to find things a bit out on the periphery so that my world didn’t become an echo chamber.

To paint this picture a bit clearer for you, I will now unveil what I read by sharing how this process played out with the specific books I chose. Each section deals with a different “problem” with the accompanying book “solution.”

Without further ado:

Section 1 –

I have a fascination with branding, logos, and brand design and so when I had a problem in this area I found myself going down the rabbit hole of the creative/artist world and stumbled onto Chris Do of TheFutur. That led to some mentorship work with him and dovetailed into picking up two books popular in that world:

Blair does a remarkable job at disrupting the status quo, in just twelve short proclamations (that make up his manifesto), of how service based businesses currently operate. Aimed at the creative entrepreneur, it is remarkable how many similarities we share across different industries. I read it twice, back to back.

Another immediate back to back read, David’s direct approach to explaining how and why expertise is valued in the world really caused me to pause and reflect on the way I do things across my companies. I made immediate changes that resulted in greater client success and fulfillment for myself

This is the story of Zappos (of course I’d love a book about a shoe company, right?!) up to the point that they were acquired by Amazon. It’s a fascinating and hilarious account of the trials and tribulations of the true cost of sticking to the vision that you have as a founder. It was a good reminder for me that even the biggest and most recognized companies in the world had struggles that mimic the ones us small fish have too.

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Section 2

Another thing that I wanted to tackle this year is a mismanagement of time that I realized in myself. I noticed that when focused, I was able to do an obscene amount of valuable work. But distracted Josh was a slug. I was recommended Cal Newport’s book years ago when he first released it, but never felt compelled to read it. Then in the span of a week in conversations with friends and colleagues, they all asked if I’d read that. Thanks to Bezos and the Amazon elves, it was here the next day.

At the same time, in conversations with my better half, she kept reading aloud passages from a book she was reading. I ignored her pleas that I should read it until she started hitting me with those magic words: “you know this really sounds like something you’ve said before, like you could have written this book!” Ok fine, hurry up and finish it so I can read it.

Immediately actionable from the jump, this book spoke to me from the first page and is largely responsible for how my days are structured. When the time is right (as outlined above), I’ve proudly recommended this to a couple fellow business owners this year and they reported similar results: immediate action that led to remarkable results.

This is the one Mandy told me to read and my goodness I’m so grateful that she kept pestering me to do so. This is the right-brained version of the next book on my list, for those that are looking for something with more feelings and less logic. It really helped me put words to the stirring in my soul I’d been feeling for a couple years, namely the pursuit of business/commercial/market success at the expense of my family. Much more on that in another post.

Like I said above, this is basically the left-brain version of the above book. It provides the science and aha moments necessary for us guys to put these things into practice.

Section 3

I’ve written about this before, but behavioral psychology is one of my favorite things to study. Here’s why: ‘But I Only.’ With that in mind, I wanted to read a book I’d been dying to read for a couple years along with another with a title fit for a bunch of blue painters tape since it’d be hanging around my coffee table and two little kids (and their friends).

Whew, there are times where I feel like I’m a decent writer and have a good mastery of words. Then there are times when I feel like my IQ is that of a rock. 12 Rules had me feeling like the latter for much of this book, but I was so humbled by Dr. Peterson’s use of language and ability to extract meaning from places I hadn’t even considered. I love books that challenge me intellectually and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. I re-read this again during the year and look forward to his follow-up.

Ironically, I’d read this whole book as he has it piecemealed on his website via blogs and short stories. However, I always enjoy reading books in their intended order and finally picked this one up. Manson, while overly profane for effect, does a good job with his straight-forward no-nonsense approach. His chapter on values was of particular interest, as I’m a firm believer that acting out of alignment with your deepest values is the root cause for the stress and unease present in most peoples lives. Again, another blog for another day.

Section 4

Lastly, I read for the pure joy of it. Not only do I love stories, but I love learning how people put together stories. Combine that with the wonder and curiosity I have with space travel and the first book below was a no-brainer. Also, I’m not much of a fiction reader in the slightest, but two such types of books made it onto my lap this year largely because of the co-author.

This is the book they used to make the movie with Ryan Gosling. It’s a great portrait of the life of a quiet, serious man in Armstrong. A life marked by personal and professional tragedy as well as the difficulties that came with a fame he never wanted nor asked for. Think about this: he was a bigger deal than Michael Jordan, the Dream Team, and the Backstreet Boys…combined.

I don’t know what compelled me to ultimately click the ‘buy’ button, but I will say that I finished this 500+ page book in two days. This was just a great read from cover to cover and as expected, there’s a great twist at the end that I never saw coming.

They got me! I literally bought this one right after I finished the first one. While not quite as riveting as the first, it was still really good. Plus, as the dad of a little girl this one hit me personally in a visceral way. Well done Bill and James!

That’s it for 2021!

What did you read this year? Anything you wished you could have gotten to?

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